We’ve all done them.
I started just after my first novel, The Insertion, had reached draft – hopefully that’s a book that’ll never see the light of day. This was back in 2009. I was on Litarena, a site over at http://www.litarena.com/discussion/ I did 4 pieces there – essentially spin-off tales from The Insertion (all I could think of). My biggest problem: I was thinking ‘novel’. The Litarena site was difficult to navigate and I headed over to Creative Writers on My Telegraph where I became a regular contributor to their monthly contest. It took me about six months to get the hang of trimming the story to size. Things started to click when I based my story model on American comic book monster tales – these were panel drawn art work, 4 and 5 pages in length as published in 1960s titles such as Monsters on the Prowl, Creatures on the Loose, Tales of the Unexpected.
In all, I reckon I must have submitted over 40 stories to them. CWG as it’s known, is hosted on the blogging platform of the Daily Telegraph and membership is free. Up to recently it was still going strong and can be found at http://my.telegraph.co.uk/groups/creative-writing/forum/ If you go there, look for Bleda or Atiller (username handles) and say ‘Archie sent me’. Later I joined the Short Story Club, also on My Telegraph. Our hostess was author, Louise, Doughty and I got stuck into the exercises she set, producing a few promising novel starts in the process.
Outside the net, I go to local writing groups in and around Rossendale, in the North of England. Hasiwriters, based at Haslingden Library, are largely to blame for the many unfinished pieces in my collection – as many as 40. By definition an unfinished piece is a minus – of course on the plus side, it had to have had something to interest me – I don’t start unless my imagination is triggered. I think of unfinished stories as a back-catalogue of ideas to pick up and develop when my creativity is all worn out :-).
Other groups I attend vary; Irwell Writers (The Mosses Centre, Bury) does idea generation, read-around and feedback, whereas Manchester Speculative Fiction (MadLabs, Manchester) does pure feedback – they use the Milford Method. Burnley Writers were competition geared last time I looked in. Holmfirth Writers (over the Pennines in Yorkshire) does idea generation, writing + read around. The trick is keeping a focus on your personal writing projects. In my head, I’ve enough unfinished stories (40) and unfinished novels (10) to keep me going to Doomsday.
Detailed stats – these change all the time. Typically I write around 300 words in a session. Recently I started a piece called Fickleday – it’s now at 1,000 and when it’s done it’ll come to between 5k and 10k words. The setting is the Earth’s lithosphere (underground) — I might have Nazis in! Before I do more work on it, I have to get back to Dragonshard, two thirds done. Dragonshard will come in around 10k. Both these pieces are a take on pulp themes – updated with bits of fresh science.